The Sound of Silence in Mali

A bloody Islamist quest to kill music in the West African country.

Sharia enforcers bring ugly, angry noises: Cries of “_Allahu Akbar” _as a church is attacked. Slashes of swords and blood-gargling death. The throb of Antonovs circling in the sky. The delicate swoosh of a cluster bomb before impact and release of deadly shrapnel and ball bearings. They leave in their wake the sounds of their victims: Cries of anguish. Wails of desolation and grief.

But Sharia enforcers also bring ugly and angry silence: The silence of freedom suppressed. The deadly pall of dreams extinguished. The sealed lips of unwilling submission and of death. And, in the recently overtaken West African nation of Mali, Sharia has brought an unexpected silence. It has stopped the music that is the lifeblood and identity of the country.

An October 23 Guardian article about the actions of the jihadists that have invaded northern Mali begins with a truckload of militants driving to the northern Mali desert town of Kidal, home of members of “Tinariwen,” a Grammy award-winning band. In a country famous for its contributions to West African culture, the Islamists had come to implement a ban on all Western music.

To Islamists, “Western” appears to include traditional African music. There is an unbreachable gap between Islam and the culture of individual nations – even majority-Muslim countries. Islamists always attempt to wipe out anything that gives ethnic and cultural identity apart from Islam to those they seek to conquer. (Apologists in America always refer to “America’s relationship with Islam,” as if the global Islamic Caliphate has already been recognized, and individual nations – and even continents – have been subsumed within it.)

Arriving at the home of one of the musicians, the Islamists used threats and destruction to get their point across, according to Andy Morgan, the writer of the Guardian article. The musician was not home, but Morgan relates that they warned the musician’s sister that if he ever “shows his face” in town, they will “cut off all the fingers that he uses to play his guitar with.” Then the Islamist militants removed all of his guitars, amplifiers, speakers, microphones, and a drum kit from the house, doused them with gasoline, and burned them. Morgan sums it up, “In northern Mali, religious war has been declared on music.”

Arab “Spring,” the downfall of common-or-garden tyrants and the ascendancy of Islamic terrorists, is on the move in Africa. Islamists have been emboldened by the Obama administration’s narrative of moral equivalence. Jihadists have been able to commandeer, bully, destroy, and murder with impunity in places such as Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya. Three armed Islamic groups now control the northern Malian cities of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao and have put them under the heavy burden of Sharia.

Some Western foreign policy elites argue that the rise of Islamism is all about money and power, not about religion. They say that the actions of Islamist jihadists are rooted in their victimization, poverty, and marginalization (nothing that a few billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars can’t assuage!). But even the Left-leaning Guardian reveals that “many of the mujahideen who have zoned in on the conflict from all over the Muslim world are fired by an unquestionable religious zeal.” This is similar to the Nigerian jihadists, Boko Haram. Although the State Department denies that Boko Haram is religiously motivated, the jihadist group’s leader, Imam Abubakar Shekau, has declared openly that Islam is the motivation. He said in a YouTube video, “I am not against anyone, but if Allah asks me to kill someone, I will kill him and I will enjoy killing him like I am killing a chicken.”

There is no jihadist Bach-equivalent, writing Soli Deo Gloria at the top of stirring musical masterpieces. Islamist “religious zeal” leads to lack of music appreciation and the quenching of creativity. All Western music was officially banned in northern Mali in an August 22 decree issued “by a heavily bearded Islamist spokesman in the city of Gao” Morgan reports. The decree referred to such music as “the music of Satan.” It informed the Malian people that “Qur’anic verses must take its place.”

“Sharia demands it,” the decree states of the silencing of the music. And Sharia demands much more in Islamist-occupied northern Mali. Morgan calls the implementation of Sharia there “horrifically literal” and “gratuitous,” but implementation of Sharia is horrifically literal. People are not figuratively lashed – not even in Australia. Their actual hands are cut off. Real stones assault their bodies. And Sharia implementation is not “gratuitous.” It is by the book. Former Assistant U.S. Attorney and author, Andrew C. McCarthy, also took issue with the _Guardian_’s assumptions. He explained that “there’s nothing ‘gratuitous’ about applying (Sharia) as it is written.” “What we wishfully call ‘radicalism’ is in fact the Islamic mainstream,” says McCarthy in another article.

The ban on music and the broader effects of Islamic jihad are devastating to Mali in many ways. The famous kora (a harp/lute like instrument made from a calabash) player Toumani Diabate explains to Morgan that the material well-being of Mali springs from music in the way that the prosperity of other nations springs from their mineral resources. “Culture is our petrol,” he says. “Music is our mineral wealth. There isn’t a single major music prize in the world today that hasn’t been won by a Malian artist.”

Even more important than the financial blessing that talented, creative music and musicians have provided for Mali, is that they find their identity in music. The Islamists are trying to erase the ethnicity and culture of the Malian people groups. Morgan quotes another famous West African musician, Cheik Tidiane Seck, who says that “music regulates the life of every Malian … From the cradle to the grave.” Describing life under the Islamic invaders, one well-known Touareg musician from Kidal says in the Guardian article: “There’s a lack of joy. No one is dancing. There are no parties. Everybody’s under this kind of spell. It’s strange.”

Some Malians are defying the Islamists. Morgan tells of Manny Ansar, the director of an annual musical festival that takes place in the desert near Timbuktu and Kidal. Now, La Maison, the hotel where Bono stayed when he attended the most recent festival this past January, is the headquarters of the Islamic tribunal. But Ansar is going to take the now-banned festival on the road. He is sponsoring a Festival in the Desert in Exile, Morgan reports. It is his “way of fighting back.”

Ansar is not alone. Malian rap/hip-hop artist Amkoullel denounces Islamism and military rule, declaring, “I don’t give a **** what they say! We won’t let them get away with it. We don’t need them to teach us how to be Muslims. We’re a secular tolerant country, where everyone declares their religion according to their feeling. And in any case, they know that a Mali without music is an impossibility.” Amkoullel has organized a coalition of rappers, activists, and other friends of freedom called Plus Jamais Ça to pressure the international community to counter the Islamist takeover. According to the Guardian, he has received three death threats.

Another award-winning Malian musician, Rokia Traore, says that although she is a Muslim, “Sharia is not my thing.” She says that if she could not go on stage and perform, she would cease to exist. Without music, she tells Morgan, Mali will “cease to exist.” Traore and Mali’s other musicians and freedom-lovers – mostly Muslims – are fighting against the implementation of Sharia in their country. They see Sharia for what it is – a hegemony that is crushing the life and erasing the cultural identity of this West African nation.

That, of course, is the intention of Sharia. American useful idiots of the Islamists promote the idea that Sharia is compatible with American democratic principles. And some are gullible enough to believe, as Dr. Walid Phares has said, that jihad is a benign spiritual tradition like yoga. But perhaps the gagging of Mali’s musicians by Sharia will open some eyes – at least those of music lovers – to the truth.

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